Christmas Gilt

A Bounty of Chestnuts and Gift Boxes

By contrast, Grant Green was a strictly one-note-at-a-time linear player, a direct extension of Charlie Christian. During his major period, the 1960s, he was considered an anomaly for his directness and constancy in both conservative and modernistic settings. Born in St. Louis, tutored by his father (Grant, like Jimmy Smith, was playing professionally at 13), and groomed in r&b, blues, and organ groups, he perfected an unfeigned steely tone and saxophone-like legato fluency. At a time when jazz guitar was occupied with the wonders of Wes Montgomery's octaves, Jim Hall's lyricism, and the up-and-coming dynamism of George Benson and Pat Martino, Green's greatest virtues—his incisive clarity and blues-grounded simplicity—undermined his stature, as did Blue Note's occasional input of '60s pop tunes and Verve's subsequent accent on broad funk. The four-disc Retrospective, though heavy on the organ years and not fully representative (only one track from his masterpiece, Idle Moments; compiler Michael Cuscuna may have assumed you've got that, as indeed you should), is an engrossing survey with Green at the center of Blue Note's stock company, which provided him such sidemen as Joe Henderson, Booker Ervin, Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, Ike Quebec, and Sam Rivers, just to mention the tenors.

The key, short-lived founders of jazz guitar were also documented this year: Eddie Lang in Mosaic's amazingly comprehensive eight-disc Classic Columbia and OKeh Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang Sessions, and Christian in Columbia/Legacy's four-disc Charlie Christian: The Genius of the Electric Guitar, which consists entirely of his work with Benny Goodman, whose name is inexplicably omitted from the amplifier-shaped box, as is an indexing of the tracks in the 1941 jam session that culminated with "Blues in B." But it straightens out, at long last, the mess of alternate takes and even adds a few—in Christian's case, never a surplus. Both sets are essential. I'm not sure the same can be said for two of the most impressive, collector-oriented packages in years, which suggest that there will always be more Frank Sinatra and Miles Davis than Santa could ever keep up with.

Frank Sinatra in Hollywood (1940-1964), a collaboration between Turner Classic Movies and Reprise, is a six-disc survey of movietown desiderata for completists who want not only the tracks he recorded for films, but also the outtakes, promotions, running tapes, Oscar speech (honorary, 1946, for The House I Live In), pro forma interview with Louella Parsons, and new mixes designed to make the songs sound more like records than movies. The stocking is stuffed with several songs dropped from films, including one recorded for the soundtrack of Advise and Consent, and a pairing with Maurice Chevalier in which Sinatra indulges in the sheer baritoneness of his voice while the French guy is encouraged to swing. It's a time capsule, very handsomely done, and the best of it emphasizes not least the expertness of Hollywood's sound engineers.

I have not yet worked my way through all 20 volumes of The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux (Warner Music/Switzerland), but I will: No collection of previously unknown material released this decade has given me more pleasure while forcing me to unclog hardened aesthetic arteries. It begins with the Pete Cosey band of 1973, skips to 1984, documenting every set through 1986, and resumes with the shorter appearances between 1988 and 1991. The performances are unedited, and part of the consuming joy—these are mostly joyous sets—is conveyed in the interaction between Davis and the audiences he transported. In the late '80s, I commented on differences between Davis's frazzled concerts in New York and the exhilarating ones that followed a couple of weeks later at European festivals (not Montreux). The summer Montreux concerts in the '80s reveal a variety of material, communal dedication, and total commitment by the leader—Davis is determinedly on. Even when he begins with kitschy synthesized voices (1988), he's just setting up a stirring revision of "In a Silent Way"—his trumpet fat anddaring, verging on ebullience when it isn'tripping knifelike through blues, as in the 1986 Jack Johnson medley. One piece bleeds into another, bearing tidings most of us never knew: July in Christmas.

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